When I was getting my MBA at MIT, there was a class called Organizational Processes that most students didn’t take too seriously.
The boring name didn’t spark much interest. And the class itself was about all the “softer” aspects of leading a business—how to set up companies and teams for success, how to deal with difficult leadership situations, and how to think about a company-wide reorganization.
I remember the moment our professor said, “This will be the most important class you take at Sloan,” because eyes rolled all over the classroom.
Now, I’ve been the CEO of ThirdLove for six years, and I swear, if I had the opportunity to go back to business school and take just one class, it would be Organizational Processes.
The content of that class ended up being extremely relevant to what I do every single day. Of course, I didn’t realize that at the time. So if you’re considering an MBA, you may find it helpful to understand what it will (and won’t) prepare you for after graduation.
An MBA Teaches:
1: Cross-Functional Collaboration
Much of the work in an MBA program is project-based. In your first year, you’re generally assigned to a small study group to work with on different projects. Usually, the professors try to make these groups as diverse as possible so everyone can learn to communicate with people who have different backgrounds, opinions, and worldviews.
Working alongside peers helps prepare you for the type of collaboration you’ll use later on in your career.
For instance, my first project at Aeropostale was rolling out a plan for international expansion. I was working cross-functionally across the organization, but no one was actually reporting to me. I had to get buy-in with a light touch—a skill I’d been able to start developing at business school.
2: How To Build Trust
When you start collaborating with a new group of people, it can be a little awkward or uncomfortable at first. It takes time to get to know everyone and build trust. But after a month or two, you feel something click. Your interactions become smoother and you start to understand where people are coming from.
The same scenario plays out when you find yourself working alongside new colleagues. You can’t just waltz in and start giving orders to people you don’t know anything about. You have to build a relationship based on trust and accountability before you ever begin to see results.
3: How To Leave Your Comfort Zone
For anyone considering business school, my advice is simple: take advantage of all the opportunities presented to you.
At MIT, there were all kinds of industry or interest-based clubs that allowed students to get hands-on experience in a relevant field. Personally, I wanted to go into retail after graduation, so I joined the Retail Club and eventually became its president.
Having experiences outside of the classroom helps grow your network, build your skills, and makes you more credible for when you start applying for jobs.
4: Confident Public Speaking
A class in business school might consist of anywhere from 50 to 90 students and the professor.
So when you’re participating in a forum, you have to really be engaged and follow along. You also have to be able to stand up in front of everyone and present a project or finding in a way that’s clear, concise, and compelling.
It can be nerve-wracking at times because you aren’t always an expert on the subject matter you’re presenting. But the only way to gain confidence in your speaking is through practice, which an MBA most certainly will provide.
An MBA Doesn’t Teach: How To Manage People
You likely won’t start in a management position as soon as you graduate. But if you look several years down the road, you’ll almost certainly be managing other people.
Going from working cross-functionally to managing people is a difficult transition. You’re no longer just interacting with colleagues or friends–you have direct reports to manage. And most of what you learn about management will be through trial and error while on the job.
Unfortunately, learning how to create open lines of communication while holding people accountable isn’t the type of thing your MBA program will focus on. But business school does a good job of teaching you how to think strategically, creatively, and analytically to solve problems. It’s about being presented with a set of data or a situation and then creating recommendations.
The rest you’ll have to pick up the same way everyone else does—by learning as you go.